AP reporter's memoir recalls civil rights struggle and 'My Time with the Kings'

Jan. 11, 2016
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My Time with the Kings
Former AP journalist Kathryn Johnson was a groundbreaking civil rights reporter, the only journalist Coretta Scott King invited into her home the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. In a new memoir, Johnson recounts her private moments with the Kings, and adds firsthand insights to the historical record of the tumultuous era.

Published this week by AP and RosettaBooks, the memoir is called “My Time with the Kings,” subtitled “A Reporter’s Recollections of Martin, Coretta and the Civil Rights Movement.”

“Whenever anything was happening, Kathryn seemed to be there,” Andrew Young, a close aide to King who went on to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta, writes in the book’s introduction.

Johnson, one of the few female reporters on the civil rights beat, says she first covered King in 1960, “at news conferences, sit-ins and demonstrations, when he was a young, fairly unknown Baptist minister.”

In the years that followed, she became close with King; his wife, Coretta, and other key figures in the leader's circle. As she describes the scene at the King home in Atlanta after the slaying in Memphis, a policeman on the porch said no reporters were being allowed inside. But when the door opened so someone could leave, Mrs. King saw her outside and told the officer, “Let Kathryn in.” 

They sat together in her bedroom watching TV reports of the killing and reruns of King’s orations, the widow “tight-lipped and misty-eyed,” until their silence was punctuated by a call from President Lyndon Johnson.

“I’ve no idea what Coretta was thinking that night, though I’ve often been asked,” Kathryn Johnson writes. “If I had to guess, it would be about her devastating loss, about how she and her four children were going to get along, or perhaps how she would carry on her husband’s remarkable legacy.”

Johnson is now 88 and still lives in Atlanta. “My Time with the Kings” features previously unpublished photographs from Johnson’s personal collection, original news wire transmissions from the AP Corporate Archives and the transcript of an oral history in which the author discussed her nearly 20 years of reporting for AP. 

“My Time with the Kings” is available in a paperback edition and as an e-book.

A new interactive experience includes excerpts from the book, AP photos and clips from Johnson’s oral history. 

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